Further Education

The Wednesbury Institute was founded in 1884 by Joseph Smith and Frederick William Hackwood, the eminent historian. The institute arranged talks, entertainment, lectures, and an annual ‘Conversazione’ consisting of light music, entertainment and short talks. Some of the talks were given by well-known speakers including Mr. Oscar Wilde, Mr. Chillington Hunt, and Mr. Harry Furniss.

In 1885 the Wednesbury Institute began holding classes in the Town Hall. They were held on every alternate Wednesday. The Institute had a large membership. In 1884 there were 759 members, which had risen to 811 in 1885. There were 749 members in 1886, and 829 in 1887. A full membership cost 10s.6d., a family membership cost 5s.0d., and an artisan membership cost 3s.0d.

In 1884 science and art classes, and elementary and advanced classes in French were held in the old Free Library that stood on the corner of Walsall Street and Brunswick Terrace. The classes continued until 1892 when they were taken over by the Municipal Technical School.

In 1889 the Higher Grade School opened. It was a privately owned institution run by the headmaster James Longstaff. It provided pupils with comprehensive courses in French, chemistry, mechanics, machine construction, and drawing. The tuition fee was one shilling per week, which included all of the necessary books. The school could cater for 120 pupils, but in practice the number never exceeded 90. In 1890 there were only 48 pupils. The school survived until 1900, but suffered due to competition from the Municipal Technical School.

Science School

On August the 12th, 1896, a new Science School, occupying a position between the Post Office and the School Board Offices was opened by the Mayor, Councillor Knowles. The building included an exhibition room with a valuable collection of chemical and metallurgical specimens, a metallurgical laboratory, with furnace room attached, a balance room, and a photographic developing room.

The Science School, as it is today.

Above the exhibition room and metallurgical laboratory were the chemical and physical laboratories, a lecture hall, a classroom, a balance room, a gas analysis room, stores, and a teachers' preparation room. 

Included in the building were four stained glass windows, one of which was given by J. H. Thursfield, the 3rd mayor of the borough. It represented a laboratory with the portraits of Lord Kelvin, Faraday, Davy, and Roger Bacon.

Another window, given by Councillor J. Knowles, the 5th mayor, represented a blacksmith at work, with portraits of Stephenson, Bessemer, Watt and Siemens, corresponding with those in the other window.

The two others in the lecture hall represented a working colliery and the Willingsworth iron furnaces. The building was designed local architect C. W. D. Joynson and built by Thomas Tildesley of Willenhall at a cost of £2,467.

The school's roll was to teach the proper way of using a large range of tools, and to give the student an intelligent grasp of workshop practice.

Municipal Technical School

This institution, formed in September, 1892 at the Art Gallery, succeeded the old Science and Art Classes. Tuition was given in the following subjects:

Chemistry; Physics; Metallurgy; Iron and Steel Manufacture; Metalwork; Woodwork; Machine Construction; Mechanical Drawing; Freehand, Model, Geometrical and Perspective Drawing; Drawing from the Cast and Shading; Elementary Design; Plant Drawing; Monochrome Painting; Elementary Geometry; Needlework; Shorthand (Pitman's system); Practical Mathematics; Applied Mechanics; Practical Drawing; English; Book Keeping; Music; Dressmaking; Cookery; and Typewriting.

Some classes were held at the Science School and others at the Art Gallery. The school's governors were eight local councillors, and eight prominent citizens. The Mayor was Chairman, and the Town Clerk, secretary. It later became the County Metallurgical and Mining Institute, which in turn became Wednesbury County Technical College.

On 22nd June, 1912 Wednesbury Education Committee approved plans for the County Metallurgical and Mining Institute, which would be on a new site with metallurgical, engineering, and chemical laboratories, and an applied mechanics room, lecture rooms, and classrooms.

The Technical College in 1918.

Land was purchased at a cost of £1,000 from Benjamin Charles Knowles and John James Knowles. It was on the corner of Walsall Street and Kendrick Street. The new building was built by H. Gough & Son, 530 Dudley Road, Wolverhampton at a cost of £13,468, and in April 1914 the first members of staff were appointed. Walter MacFarlane became Principal, and Dr. W. E. Fisher was Head of Engineering. Several posts were also advertised including a junior engineering lecturer, and a caretaker. Other appointments included four instructors in metallurgy, four instructors in engineering, another in practical mathematics, a clerical assistant, a clerk, and a laboratory boy. Classes began on 21st September, 1914.

The college in Walsall Street. Kendrick Street is on the left. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.

The Metallurgical Department occupied the whole of the upper floor of the Walsall Street wing. There was a furnace room with eight crucible furnaces, a laboratory with benches for fifty-six students, balance rooms, and rooms for pyrometry combustion, electro deposition, fuel testing, metalography, and photography. The Engineering Department, also in the Walsall Street wing, had laboratories for applied mechanics and general engineering. Machinery included seven screw cutting lathes, a planer, a shaping machine, two drilling machines, pulley blocks, and an experimental flywheel. There was also a smith's hearth with electric blower, a 16 bhp. gas engine, a testing machine with a capacity of 30,000lbs, and a gas fired boiler. The Kendrick Street wing had chemical and physical laboratories, a drawing office, lecture theatres, and classrooms.

During World War One the land at the back of the buildings was cultivated, and courses were run for munitions workers. In 1920 the institute became Wednesbury County Technical College.

Wednesbury County Technical College

In 1928 the college had a new Principal, Mr. T. G. Bamford, and the college was enlarged. Three acres of adjacent land were purchased for the building of a foundry and pattern-shop, an X-ray laboratory, a photographic laboratory, physical metallurgical laboratories, an automobile workshop and several new classrooms. In between 1933 and 1939 around £9,000 was spent on the most up-to-date machinery and apparatus so that the college became one of the best equipped educational establishments in the country, turning it into a specialised institution dealing with advanced work in engineering, metallurgy, foundry work, pattern making, and related subjects.

In World War Two the wartime training included courses for welders, radio mechanics, army fitters, and engineering cadets.

By the early 1950s the country was suffering from a shortage of suitably skilled technologists. Other similarly advanced manufacturing countries had far more, and so plans were made to attract a larger number of suitably qualified school leavers, and to develop links with industry to encourage manufacturers to send employees for training.

When Mr. Bamford retired in 1952, his replacement, Mr. MacColl realised that extra accommodation would be needed to enable the college to cater for a larger number of pupils. As an interim measure, the college acquired a number of empty buildings in nearby Knowles Street, that could be converted for educational use. It was realised that the only long-term solution to the problem of accommodation would be the building of a larger college, but that was not to happen for nearly twenty years.

The Knowles Street site included workshops for metrology, materials and structures, and electrical installation. There were new drawing offices, and laboratories for production engineering, hydraulics, and engineering science. There were also workshops for heat treatment, hot and cold working of metals, a core shop, a sand laboratory, a welding shop, spectroscopy laboratories, and a test house and workshop. One of the buildings on the site was used by the newly formed School of Photography which had eleven rooms. Other rooms were used for the teaching of domestic science. The site also included a new gymnasium which was occasionally used as an assembly hall.

The college at a later date. Then called Kendrick Campus, a part of Sandwell College. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.

Additions to the original Walsall Street site included a new canteen, a new library, a foundry cupola furnace, pneumatic moulding machines, a 5 cwt. drop hammer, equipment for gamma radiography, a 300 Kv x-ray machine, and a new Department of Science with Mr. A. J. Whitmarsh in charge. It would initially act as a service department for engineering and metallurgy, but would soon run courses of its own.

The college had excellent exam results. In 1952 there 516 entrants for City and Guilds exams, and 331 passes, and also a sixty percent pass rate for ONC and HNC exams.

Mr. MacColl retired in 1968 at a time when work was beginning on the new site in Woden Road South, which was soon to be the college's new home.

Staffordshire College of Commerce

It began on 25th April 1925 when Staffordshire Education Committee decided to appoint a county lecturer in commercial subjects, after a report by H.M. Inspectors highlighted the lack of teaching in this area. The post was taken by Walter Leslie Cottier from Liverpool, who started on 1st September, 1925. A sub-committee on commercial instruction in South Staffordshire was quickly formed, and on the 27th March, 1926 the committee proposed that negotiations should begin with Wednesbury Education Committee for the establishment of a centre for senior and advanced commercial instruction, that would be located at Wednesbury Municipal Technical School, and open in September 1926.

The Education Committee approved the scheme and commercial classes began in September as proposed, in the old Science School in Holyhead Road. Mr. Cottier became principal, and six part-time lecturers and a clerical assistant were appointed. They were assisted by several instructors. Subjects taught included book keeping, accountancy, banking, economics, commerce, English literature, French, shorthand, and typewriting.

In 1927 the Staffordshire Education Committee decided that a new School of Commerce should be opened in Wednesbury. A suitable property at Wood Green came onto the market in 1929. This was The Limes, 75 Wood Green Road, which had been home to local industrialist Edwin Richards, his wife Mary Anne, and their children. The property with 4,880 square yards of land was auctioned at the White Horse Hotel on the 15th July, 1929. The house and grounds, which were ideal for the school, were sold to the County Council for £2,000.

New heating and lighting were installed in the house, and cloakrooms and a cycle shed were added. The County Commercial College was officially opened by Alderman W. Bostock on the 26th July, 1930. Members of staff included the principal, Walter Leslie Cottier, William W. Enoch, assistant lecturer in commerce, Miss F. M. Price, lecturer in French, Mrs Dickin who taught shorthand and typing, and Miss Lester, the clerical assistant.

The Limes.

The college had a football team under the charge of Harold Harman. They played at Elwell's recreation ground in St. Paul's Road. There was also a ladies' hockey club, and a tennis court in the college grounds. In the early 1930s, several new courses began including modern drama, taught by Mr. Walker, and salesmanship, and advertising. The number of day courses greatly increased, and in 1935 Mr. S. J. Bell who had previously taught at Bilston Central School joined the staff, to teach commercial subjects. Other new members of staff included Miss Jennie Jones who taught typing, and Miss Fanny Mason, who taught elocution.

In October 1936 Mr. Cottier resigned to take a post on the Board of Education. He was replaced temporarily by Mr. Harman, who was later permanently appointed as Principal. In 1937 a new High School of Commerce for South Staffordshire opened at Wolverhampton and Staffordshire College of Technology. This involved the transfer of some of the courses from Wednesbury to Wolverhampton, which led to a reduction in teaching at Wednesbury. Mr Harman did his best to stimulate recruitment and keep as many courses as possible running. Also in that year the college had a new clerical assistant, Miss O'Reilly.

By the mid 1940s there were only six full-time members of staff, including the principal. Seven classrooms were in regular use at The Limes, and at times lessons were held in the library and the staff room. The prospectus listed forty-one classes including six in English, five in shorthand, and five in book keeping. During World War Two the basement of The Limes became an air raid shelter, and air raid shelters were built in the rose garden. Two members of staff were trained for A.R.P. duties and first aid, and the gardens were turned into a vegetable patch as part of the 'dig for victory' campaign. In 1940 the college acquired a lease on neighbouring May Villa, which was used as a students' common room, a dining room, and classrooms.

In 1945 two new clerical assistants for Miss O'Reilly were appointed, as were Mr. E. T. S. Hoffman who became the senior assistant in commercial subjects, Mr. J. C. W. Day who taught accountancy, and Mr. R. E. Handly who became a temporary member of staff. In the same year, May Villa was compulsory purchased after previous attempts to purchase the building had failed. The college was also offered the use of Myvod House, across the road from The Limes. The house had once been the home of Wilson Lloyd, his wife Margaret and their eight children. It had been acquired by Wednesbury Council and was used during the war as a nursing home, and by the civil defence. At the same time the two properties, Dolobran and Old Kinvarra on the corner of Wood Green Road and Brunswick Park Road were compulsory purchased for the college, at a total cost of £3,760.


In 1946 part of the garden at The Limes was cleared, and single storey prefabricated buildings were erected on the site to house a new dining room and kitchen, an assembly hall to accommodate 250 people, a typing room, and classrooms. From September of that year, under the terms of the 1944 Education Act, the junior courses for 14 to 16 year olds joined with a Junior Technical School, to become a Technical High School.

Even with the addition of the new buildings, the accommodation proved to be inadequate. The number of staff and students increased, as new courses including more foreign languages, and even a dancing class were intoduced. Staff and student numbers were as follows:

Year Full time members of staff Part time members of staff Student numbers
1945/46 6 31 1.032
1946/47 12 37 1,298
1947/48 12 32 1,411
1949/49 13 43 1,497
1949/50 14 53 1,654
1950/51 16 59 1,865
1951/52 18 48 1,315
1952/53 21 57 1,285
1953/54 22 53 1,323
1954/55 23 46 1,402
1955/56 24 52 1,384
1956/57 26 43 1,471
1957/58 27 45 1,803

1959 was a significant year for the college. The long expected purpose-built college building was erected in part of the garden of Myvod House, and opened at the start of the academic year. The building included a hall and stage, a canteen, a sizeable library, eight classrooms on the first and second floors, and offices and staff rooms on the ground floor. It supplemented the original buildings, which remained in use. In 1961 it became the Staffordshire College of Commerce, and staff numbers were increased to cater for new courses, particularly in the new Management Department. There were 32 full time members of staff, and 64 part time members of staff. The new library had 6,000 volumes, a new librarian and assistant librarian. The number of books rapidly grew to over 8,000 with 700 student borrowers. In the first year the new Management Department had 502 students, and the college embarked on a rapid expansion programme. There was a massive demand for accountants in industry, and an equally large demand for management studies courses.

In the year 1962/63 the canteen served 40,000 midday meals and 18,000 evening meals, which greatly stretched its resources, and led to overcrowding. Plans were made to extend the canteen to three times its original size. The library suffered from the same problem, which caused a lot of overcrowding. Its 84 seats were proving to be inadequate, and there was insufficient shelf room to cope with the 2,000 new titles. As a result the college was extended in 1965.

Staffordshire College of Commerce.

Staffordshire College of Commerce after it had been extended in 1965.

The college continued to thrive, later becoming part of the West Bromwich College of Commerce and Technology.
Read about the Woden Road South campus of the West Bromwich College of Commerce and Technology

Evening Institutes

There were 2 evening institutes which all became part of the technical and commercial colleges:

Wednesbury Evening Institute, Holyhead Road

Provided evening instruction in technical, commercial and general subjects. The building opened in 1896 and branch classes were held in Addison Street Woodwork Centre and Lower High Street Primary School. The technical and commercial classes prepared young people for admission to the courses at the technical and commercial colleges. There were dressmaking, tailoring, homecraft, embroidery, woodwork, elocution, and first-aid classes.

King's Hill Evening Institute, King's Hill Secondary Modern School, Old Park Road

Provided evening instruction in dressmaking, woodwork, amateur radio and cookery.

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